A New Tool Could Make Fingerprint Analysis More Reliable

iStock
iStock

Contrary to what many would like to believe, fingerprint evidence isn't all that reliable. Partial prints and smudged prints can be difficult to read, and in the U.S. at least, fingerprint analysis is left to individual interpretation rather than a set of standards outlining what can be considered a match.

That could soon change, though. A statistical tool developed by a Department of Defense analyst is able to take two fingerprints and tell how probable it is that they came from the same person, according to Gizmodo. The software program, called FRStat, was used in a courtroom for the first time in February and is now available to any lab that wants to test it out.

Henry Swofford, of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory at the Department of Defense, spent four years working with statisticians to develop the software. It works by comparing images of the small features of fingerprint minutiae (ridges) against "similarly marked, known matches" in a database. The software is then able to calculate the likelihood that the prints were left by the same individual. A paper outlining the statistical method was published in the journal Forensic Science International.

"I want to strengthen the foundations of our science," Swofford told Gizmodo. "I also want to make sure the evidence is presented in a way that the guilty people are convicted, and the innocent are exonerated."

A 2011 study found a false positive rate of 0.1 percent among fingerprint readings, and there have been numerous high-profile cases of wrongful convictions over the years. In one example, Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Oregon, was arrested in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombing after four experts agreed that his prints matched ones found on a bag at the scene. He was eventually released after that proved to be a mistake.

While FRStat isn't the first technology that attempts to make fingerprint analysis more accurate, it's the first one that has been developed for widespread, practical usage, according to Gizmodo.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Apple iPhone Users Should Be Wary of This Convincing Phishing Scam

iStock.com/Onfokus
iStock.com/Onfokus

Anticipating or identifying telephone phishing scams can resemble a game of Whac-a-Mole. Just when you’ve gotten wise to one fraudulent approach, several more spring up in its place.

The latest attempt to grab your private information should be on your radar because of how convincing it is. Users of Apple’s iPhone are reporting calls that appear to be coming directly from Apple itself, according to Business Insider.

Here’s how it works: Users receive an incoming call from a number that appears to originate with Apple’s help line. If the scammer is successful in replicating that (genuine) number, it will appear to be legitimate on phone screens because the help line comes pre-loaded into the phones. Rather than showing an unrecognized number, iPhones will display the Apple logo, giving the call the appearance of being authentic. Scammers will then explain that Apple servers have been "compromised" and that the users should dial a second number for more details.

Of course, the report is false and the number connects you to criminals. Scammers are hoping the veneer of the call being from Apple will prompt users to lower their guard and give out personal information such as passwords or credit card numbers.

To avoid being victimized by these efforts, it’s important to remember that callers can present, or “spoof,” any number they want, including official company extensions. Don’t presume an Apple logo is any guarantee of the call being genuine. Also bear in mind that Apple’s support division never makes outgoing calls to consumers unsolicited.

If you’re on the fence about whether Apple or any other company is trying to reach you, it’s best to disconnect incoming calls and dial them yourself. Before giving out any secure information, make sure you’re the one who initiated the call.

[h/t Business Insider]

George Mason University Becomes First College to Include Food Delivery Robots in Its Meal Plan

Starship Technologies, Sodexo
Starship Technologies, Sodexo

Students at George Mason University will now be able to buy fuel for their study sessions without trekking to the dining hall. As of Tuesday, January 22, the college is offering a robot food delivery service on its Fairfax, Virginia campus.

The new system, a collaboration between Sodexo and Starship Technologies, is the first of its kind to be integrated into a college meal plan. To use it, students must first download the Starship Deliveries app for Android or iOS, and from there they will be able to order food and drinks from a handful of locations, including Blaze Pizza, Starbucks, Dunkin', and the on-campus grocery store. Deliveries cost $1.99 per trip, and usually take about 15 minutes to complete.

The service is made possible by the school's fleet of more than 25 delivery robots. Reaching about knee-height, the boxy vehicles can hold 20 pounds each, or roughly three shopping bags of food. They navigate the campus autonomously, updating users on the journey in real-time via an interactive map in the Starship app, and when they arrive, users can unlock the hatch from their phones.

Food delivery robot outdoors.
Starship Technologies, Sodexo

"With the hectic schedules students lead, there is a convenience for students to have their food, groceries, and packages delivered," Ryan Tuohy, SVP of business development at Starship Technologies, said in statement. "Our goal is to make life a little bit easier for students, whether that means skipping the line, eating lunch on the lawn rather than in the cafe, or finding the time to eat better when studying for exams."

George Mason University is the latest place to experiment with delivering food via robot. Domino's rolled out similar autonomous vehicles in New Zealand in 2016, and 2017, the robotics company ZMP and the food delivery service Ride On Express debuted sushi delivery robots in Japan.

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